Jostling for space – “A foreigner in my very own country”
“Konjam Thallikonga” were the words that drifted towards my ears while I was concentrating on a small pink rose neatly pinned (using a safety pin) on a young woman’s hair near me. I whirled around and came face-to face with a elderly woman kindly looking into my eyes. I gave her back my sweetest smile but she did not seem to be satisfied with it. Frowning, she raised the pitch of her voice and concentrating on every syllable said “T-H-A-L-L-I-K-O-N-G-A”. This time I understood the frantic motion of her hands asking me to shift and I gladly obliged. By this time almost everyone in the public bus I was travelling in were staring at me in a disapproving manner. But how to explain my co-passengers that I did not understand TAMIL (the predominant language spoken in Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu) and it was not that I was an arrogant girl not wanting to give space to my fellow passengers. Never mind the fact that the bus was overflowing with people and the smell of fresh Gajra (white-coloured flower the south-Indian ladies put on their hair) intertwined with sweat greets your nose every time you get on board.
Welcome, to my new life. I am a marwari born and brought up in Kolkata who has recently got married and shifted to Coimbatore. The above mentioned incident, in its varied forms, happens regularly to me on my daily ride to the office I’m currently doing my training with. When people around me come to know that I do-not-understand Tamil let alone speak it they shake their heads in sheer disbelief like you-would-do- when- Mr. Manmohan Singh- resigned.
Once, a middle aged lady clad in a deep-coloured silk saree asked me something with a very sweet smile. As usual, I stared back and gave my million-dollar smile as if I was telling her “Mere toothpaste mein namak hai”(loosely translated it means “My toothpaste has Salt”). I assumed she must have told something funny and my smile would be sufficient enough an answer. However, she had asked me a question and was expecting a reply as was apparent from her facial expressions. So I told her “Tamil –Venda”(Tamil – NO) later I was taught by my office colleagues to say “Tamil Teriyadhu” (meaning I do not know Tamil). Aha!! That moment the calamity struck as people around me looked incredulously with sympathetic expression etched on their faces. That lady too looked at me in pity as if I was dying from blood-cancer and she could not do anything. Then she spoke in half-English-half Tami style “Oh my Gawddd! How sad!! How do you manage in this city and why you don’t know Tamil??” I replied ”You know English/Hindi?”she shook her head.”Marwari?” she again shook her head.”Bengali?” “No”. Now it was my turn to look at her in disbelief with my eyes as wide as saucers and say “Oh my Gawd. How sad!!!”. Then, I explained to her that I had recently got married and shifted here and so could not speak the local language. Hopefully it satisfied her inquisitive streak.
Around a month later, I boarded a bus as usual from my regular stop and somehow made space for myself to stand near a hand rail. I heard the conductor shouting on top of his voice to no one in particular. By this time, I was capable of understanding a few words but to my dismay he was talking really fast and moreover he was yelling and it made it almost impossible to decipher what he was saying. I thought that once he is finished with his yelling I ll buy the ticket. It struck me as very awkward but a lot of people around me were glancing in my direction. Then, the moment he stopped yelling, I politely asked him for a ticket. He looked at me angrily and again started yelling and to my surprise this time the yelling was directed at me. I looked around in an utterly confused and dazed manner, silently hoping that a God-sent translator would be there to help me out but to no avail. Then I also shouted saying “I do-not-know Tamil”. The conductor stared back at me in fright apparently taken aback with my sudden high-pitched shouting. Then muttered in broken English “staying-in-Coimbatore & saying I-don’t-know-Tamil”. A lady who had asked me something before and I had not replied also pitched in saying “Impossible!!! Staying in Coimbatore and not understanding any Tamil. It is the language of the state”. I glared back at her and said “You staying in India from past 40 years and you do not know hindi which is the national language of this country then how do you expect me to know Tamil when I have landed in this city only 6 months back.” She silently observed me from top to bottom and then explained to me that the conductor had been yelling and asking people to buy tickets as there were surprise checks happening that day!!!. I could not suppress a smile on my folly!!
From that time onwards, almost all the regular passengers pass a smile to me and the conductors of the buses silently come and give me the ticket to the regular stop I get down at. I am glad and truly blessed that way - to not know Tamil!!!
It depends on us how we can turn the situation in our favour. In case, there is some problem/issue you are facing in life always ponder upon how you can turn it in your favour, and do not waste time feeling low or upset. All of us are entitled to lead Magical Lives. You have to create the Magic yourself.